The 13 U.S. Cities with the Best Holiday Light Displays

Get into the spirit of the season by checking out these top destinations.

Throughout the holiday season, one of the most treasured traditions for many is getting out to see the festive Christmas lights. From simple displays of icicle lights hanging off the eaves of a house to the most elaborate musical light shows and everything in between, people love to see the glitter and color of these seasonal spectacles. While some events require tickets or admission fees, many are open to the public free of charge. To kick off your holidays, here are the 13 U.S. cities with the best Christmas light displays.

RELATED: 12 Small Towns That'll Make You Feel Like You're in a Hallmark Christmas Movie.

The Best Christmas Light Displays in the U.S.

1. Duluth, Minnesota

holiday light display in duluth minnesota
Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock

For a truly immersive Christmas light experience, pay a visit to Duluth, Minnesota, where you can experience the famous Bentleyville Tour of Lights.

"This enormous walk-through Christmas extravaganza features over five million lights displayed on a 20-acre park adjacent to Lake Superior, and it is America's largest free walk-through lighting display," Mercedes Zach, travel expert at Asaptickets, tells Best Life. "Visitors of all ages can walk through different light tunnels and other illuminated paths to view the large scenes of lights depicting various holiday figures and local attractions."

You can also warm up with some complimentary hot cocoa and enjoy some snacks—and if you have kids in tow, don't skip a visit with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, Zach says.

"The event runs until Dec. 26, and admission is free (except for $10 parking per vehicle), but donations are welcome and much appreciated," she explains. "In my opinion, this winter wonderland park is a must-see for any visitors and locals alike."

2. Fayetteville, Arkansas

Fayetteville, fattest cities
Gunnar Rathbun / Shutterstock

Also on Zach's list is a spot in Arkansas, which she says shouldn't be missed.

"When it comes to finding the most gorgeous festive decorations and light displays in one place, Fayetteville, Arkansas, is the place to go," Zach says. "The annual Lights of the Ozarks illuminates the historic downtown square with an amazing winter wonderland of lights. It also offers nightly holiday activities, fresh hot chocolate, and festive music, as well as pony and carriage rides."

What's even better is that this spectacle is free to enjoy, and the lights are open to the public every night until 1 a.m. through Jan. 1, 2024.

"No wonder the breathtaking display of a half-million twinkling lights has been cherished by the locals and visitors driving through the Lights of the Ozarks for the past 20 years," Zach says. "It's a holiday event that cannot be missed."

RELATED: 21 "American" Christmas Traditions We Borrowed From Other Countries.

3. Grapevine, Texas

Grapevine Texas
Victoria Ditkovsky/Shutterstock

Any holiday-light aficionado will want to visit the Christmas Capital of Texas. This city has a 40-day celebration that kicks off with the annual Carol of Lights wherein historic downtown Grapevine shines in the glow of millions of Christmas lights, including those on the live, more than 40-foot-tall Christmas tree at Peace Plaza.

For more lights, head to the Gaylord Texas Resort for its Merry & Bright light show featuring more than two million lights. And on Dec. 1, catch the Parade of Lights, a parade filled with more than 100 lighted floats and marching bands.

Have some extra time? Just under two hours from the Christmas Capital of Texas is the North Pole of Texas: Pickton.

"Every year, we drive all our children out to spend a couple of hours in the enormous light display hosted at the North Pole of Texas," Kourtney Shepard, vacation rental host at Lone Star Casitas, tells Best Life. "Along a train ride, there are dozens of Christmas light displays, as well as lighted jet skis with elves riding them around the almost-frozen water near Santa's workshop."

4. Atlanta, Georgia

christmas lights at atlanta botanical gardens
Rob Hainer / Shutterstock

The Big Peach is also known for its holiday lights, hosting its annual Garden Lights, Holiday Nights event.

"It illuminates and completely transforms the Atlanta Botanical Garden with thousands of shining lights and whimsical, larger-than-life displays from beloved books such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," Zach says. "In 2023, guests can also expect new twists, including a colorful Glowing Grove along the Flower Walk, oversized flowers leading to Ice Goddess, and several lighted sculptures."

Music is coordinated with the display, making for an even more memorable show—and per Zach's advice, "You can't miss the iconic Tunnel of Light or the Orchestral Orbs, which is the nicest place to dance in time to the choreographed glowing orbs."

This attraction is a bit on the pricier side, but if you're interested, you have the option to experience the displays through Jan. 14, 2024.

5. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Pigeon Forge Tennessee
Scott Heaney/Shutterstock

While known for amusement parks, themed entertainment, and lots of shopping, Pigeon Forge also celebrates the holiday season with quite the brilliant show. Each year, the city hosts Winterfest, a three-month-long event featuring more than six million lights as part of one of the largest free outdoor lights festivals in the country.

Along the Winterfest Driving Tour, visitors can take in sparking lighted displays of favorite holiday seasons and favorite fairytale scenes along with giant ornaments and tall trees, including a 60-foot-tall decorated tree. To truly become one with the lights, set out on the Winterfest Wonders of Light Walking Trail along the Riverwalk.

6. Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix Arizona
You Touch Pix of EuToch/Shutterstock

No matter where you live in the Phoenix area, you'll find plenty of Christmas lights. For instance, World of Illumination is hosting Candy Rush, the world's largest animated drive-through light show, at Diablo Stadium. The mile-long journey features millions of sparking lights synced to Christmas music that transforms into a holiday spectacle. World of Illumination also will have light shows at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor and Desert Diamond Casino in Glendale.

Another popular show takes place at the Phoenix Zoo, which features animal lanterns, light displays, and a music and light show you won't forget. Or there's the drive-through light show known as the Arizona Lights in the Night at the Thompson Event Center in Mesa. More than a million lights will dance along to synchronized holiday music. Check the Visit Phoenix website for even more light shows.

RELATED: The 14 Best Off-the-Radar Winter Destinations in the U.S.

7. Columbus, Ohio

Columbus Ohio

Start your Christmas light exploration in downtown Columbus, where you can see nearly 500,000 lights at the Columbus Commons. Then head over to the Scioto Mile, which will showcase more holiday lights along the riverfront. To continue the experience, you can purchase a Holiday Lights Pass that provides admission to Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and Conservatory Aglow at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

8. Gulfport, Mississippi

Gulfport Harbor Lightshow

With more than 1.2 million lights covering 40 acres of Jones Park, it's no wonder Gulfport is home to the state's largest Christmas lights show. The Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival features everything from giant ornaments to elaborate festive scenes to a "dancing trees" show. In addition to the lights, visitors can watch the elves work at Santa's Village, ride carnival rides, take a train ride, or visit with the big man himself.

You can even hop on the heated CTA Trolley along Jones Park Drive for a ride from one side of the park to the other, offering a different perspective on the glowing lights.

9. Santa Claus, Indiana

Holiday Train in Santa Claus Indiana

How could you not experience the Christmas lights in a town named after Santa Claus? Start exploring the Santa Claus Land of Lights, a 1.2-mile journey that tells the story of Rudolph the Reindeer using LED lights. Next, head to the Christmas in Dale Light Show, where you can watch a 48-minute music and light display. Simply tune in to 100.3 FM on your radio dial, and watch from the comfort of your car.

Keep the lights going at Santa's Great Big LED Tree of Lights located outside of the Santa Claus Christmas Store in Kringle Place Shopping Center. Each night between 5 and 10 p.m. local time, a local radio station plays music to accompany the tree's light show.

10. Branson, Missouri

Christmas in the Ozarks
Corey Mathery/Shutterstock

Christmas in Branson is quite the spectacle, starting with the Lights of Joy drive-through experience that features animated displays in a variety of themes, such as Santa's Village, the 12 Days of Christmas, and Christmas Safari.

At Shepherd of the Hills, the Trail of Lights covers 2.5 miles illuminated by millions of lights on dozens of Christmas light displays. At Promised Land Zoo, visitors can travel a two-mile drive through Christmas display of LED lights among the animal habitats. For more holiday light enjoyment, follow the Christmas Tree City Trail, with more than 700 colorfully lighted and decorated trees.

RELATED: 10 Small Towns in the U.S. That Feel Like You're in a Hallmark Movie.

11. Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Boothbay Harbor Maine

Located an hour north of Portland, the towns of Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor go big on Christmas lights! At the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, visitors can walk through Gardens Aglow, which features more than 750,000 LED lights strategically placed throughout 14 acres of the gardens.

For lights beyond the gardens, check out the residents and businesses who entered to compete in the Gardens Aglow Community Lighting Contest. On Nov. 26, local fire departments decorate their trucks with lights and set out on the Lighted Fire Truck Parade through town. And on Dec. 3, boat owners decorate their vessels with hundreds of Christmas lights and cruise the inner harbor as part of the Lighted Boat Parade and Sparkle Fireworks.

12. Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth Washington
Mark A Lee/Shutterstock

For a taste of Bavaria and a magical Christmastime experience, head to Leavenworth, Washington. During the holidays, the town transforms into the Village of Lights with half a million LED lights strung throughout Christmastown.

"It's hands down one of the best places to visit during the holidays due to their Christmas light display!" Tess Arnold, the blogger behind Traveling Tessie, tells Best Life. "The entire town is covered in twinkling lights and on a clear day you can see the snow-capped mountains of the North Cascades in view—it's truly a sight to see and makes you feel like you're inside a snow globe."

As you take in the lights, stop by the gazebo for live entertainment by choirs, carolers, and bands—and Arnold recommends taking some time to enjoy a meal, shop, and enjoy the Christmas-themed attractions.

"The town is full of locally owned shops including clothing boutiques, wine tasting rooms, and even a Nutcracker Museum," she says. "Nearby, visitors can enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snow-covered forest or the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm where you can not only learn about reindeer but feed them!"

13. Newport Beach, California

Newport Beach

Don't let the California sunshine fool you: Newport Beach knows how to celebrate the season.

The city's most notable event is the Christmas Boat Parade & Ring of Lights. Vessels range from canoes and kayaks to boats and yachts of all sizes, each decorated with sparkling Christmas lights. At Sherman Library & Gardens, visitors can stroll through the Nights of 1000 Lights, which features dazzling displays along with entertainment at "Moulin Rouge," on Sherman's miniature railway, and at Santa's workshop.

At Newport Dune's Lighting of the Bay, you can stroll along the Back Bay, which is aglow with festive floating holiday lights.

For more travel advice delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Karon Warren
For more than 20 years, Karon Warren has covered travel for numerous outlets including AAA, Family Vacation Critic, Cruise Critic, Trivago, and many others. Read more
Filed Under